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Losing Tys leaves Patriots in a bind

FOXBOROUGH -- Tyrone Poole, who revealed yesterday he had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee three weeks ago, said he will be on the sideline, along with Ty Law, when the Patriots face the St. Louis Rams Sunday, leaving New England very young and possibly very vulnerable in the secondary.

Law, who has a broken bone in his left foot, was not seen in the Patriots' locker room, although a pair of crutches were leaning against his locker. Poole started the first three games for the Patriots, originally injuring the knee Oct. 3 against Buffalo. He missed the following week's win against Miami, and then attempted to play against Seattle Oct. 17, only to find he could barely move the knee.

There's no telling when Poole will return, although he sounded optimistic it wouldn't be much longer yesterday.

It leaves New England likely being forced to start Asante Samuel and rookie Randall Gay at cornerback, with the possibility that free safety Eugene Wilson could also see action at corner, against Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce, and a very deep Rams receiving corps.

"I wanted to play, but I probably didn't do myself any justice [returning for the Seattle game]," Poole said. "It felt good in the first quarter and it started to tighten up a bit in the second quarter, and when we came in at halftime it tightened up even more. I came back out for the third quarter for a couple of plays and I couldn't do anything. It was like I was in concrete. It wasn't ready, but I just wanted to go out and help the team.

"Now I've had the opportunity to correct what was wrong. My progress is well beyond what the trainers expected me to be at this point. I just have to make sure that when I come back, I come back at 100 percent."

Poole feels the replacements for he and Law will do the job, even though they are less experienced. Samuel has appeared mostly as a nickel back, but the Patriots have always believed he was destined to be a starter. Now he's getting that opportunity.

"I don't know what to expect because I haven't been out there against [the Rams], but I feel more comfortable out there now," Samuel said. "I'd love to have Ty and all the players out there with me, but unfortunately it's not going to be like that."

Gay, an undrafted free agent out of Louisiana State, was burned for a 47-yard touchdown by Plaxico Burress in last Sunday's loss to the Steelers, just two plays after Law broke his foot. Gay had been impressive in spot duty in the regular season, but it now appears he will see the bulk of the playing time in Law's absence.

"[Gay] got beat on one play," said strong safety Rodney Harrison. "If the defense had been run right by me, it probably would have been a quarterback sack. I had a free lane at the quarterback. I hesitated. I should have blitzed. If I had done my job, I would have gotten to the quarterback. I don't care if it's my fault, I'm going to take the blame for it."

The Rams (4-3), who haven't played the Patriots since the 2002 Super Bowl, will likely spread the field to create mismatches against New England's nickel and dime packages. That poses a huge challenge for coach Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel.

"We won't sit back and feel miserable," said Harrison. "What are you going to do, sulk that Ty [Law] is not here? We lost Ty Law. He's the best cornerback in the game. But what can you do? We've still got to play the game. I'm not going to change anything I do. I'll just be me."

For Poole, it's frustrating to not be able to help.

"Any football player worth his salt wants to go back out there and play," he said. "My progress is better than what the trainers expected me to be at. I'm very pleased and I should be returning shortly. It won't be this week, but anything after that, who knows."

Poole called this game a great opportunity for Gay, an opportunity that doesn't come along often.

"There's a sense of urgency for everyone in the secondary," Poole said. "Football is a team sport. It's never been an individual sport. If the guys we have couldn't play, I don't think they would be on this roster. Randall is a rookie, just like I was. We always say you're one play away, and sometimes you don't have that chance to sit back and learn."

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